May 30th, 2013



I have been pretty quiet on here lately. Essentially I've been focusing on work rather than on reflecting on feelings, etc.

Back in January I resumed the practice of salat, and I haven't discontinued since. At some point I became curious about what kind of sufi activities might be going on locally since I last checked several years ago. I found a small Meetup group that had recently found a steady place to meet. I went to my first meeting 2 weeks ago.

I wasn't sure at first if the person who started the group was working within a particular tariqat or not. When he brought out a photo of Sheikh Nazim al-Haqqani, however, it was pretty clear that he is a dervish in a Naqshbandi group. I have an instinctively uncomfortable reaction to Nazim's appearance, and having the obligatory photo there reminded me of the Amma scene, from which I have been distancing myself for a couple of years now.

The zikr we did followed a CD recording of a supposedly spontaneous zikr that Nazim did at Georgetown University in the 1990s. There was definitely some power in it, and since it was based on commonly known passages from the Qur'an and on a handful of the Asma'ul Husna, I was able to follow it pretty easily.

During the zikr I lost track of time. I became aware of, as it were, energy flowing along circuits that seem not to have been used for a while. In a sense, I was getting an inner workout. After the zikr was over I was feeling a bit ungrounded and not quite ready to get behind the wheel and drive home. The zikr was held at a wellness center, and the host and a friend of his did the owner a favor afterward by carrying bags of garbage and recyclables to dumpsters outside of the building. We and the other attendee (there were just four of us that evening) stood and talked for a while in the parking lot while the host and his friend stood there, holding the bags of trash and recyclables. In a somewhat comical way, this seemed to provide some symbolic "grounding" to the experience, which was something that I needed before heading home.

I didn't experience any particular "heart" energy: just energy moving through spaces that had perhaps become somewhat constricted and shut down.

Since then, I seem to be reconnecting with prior aspects of my spiritual path, and some of that has involved some heart openings, tears, etc.

My take on this particular situation is that it is what is most readily available at the moment. The fact that I'm not drawn to Nazim (or to his representative in the US, Hisham Kabbani) makes it easier to for me to witness what I'm experience and then to see how it helps me to reflect on the experiences I have had over the last 21 years of active spiritual search through spiritual groups.

There was another zikr scheduled for this evening on Meetup, but apparently there was a schedule change and I didn't get word. The organizer's friend didn't get word either, so we worked on trying to understand what had happened and then just talked a little bit. He's a somewhat quiet and reserved, but polite South Asian (I think) and is middle aged. The organizer is probably in his 30s, possibly South Asian as well, but more outwardly friendly and engaging (in a somewhat more typically American way).

I have more to write, but I'll put it in a separate post.
  • Current Music
    Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie - Soundtrack to Mysterious Skin

Books, films, music

Now that the semester has come to an end, I have had a little more time to explore things that I wouldn't ordinarily have time for during the semester.

A colleague has composed a series of works that reference Don DeLillo's Falling Man, which is a novel about the fall of the World Trade Center and its aftermath. I requested scores of the pieces and have floated the idea of presenting some of my analytical insights to the composition students next year. Out of curiosity I read the novel. My sense is that DeLillo is vying for the position of novelist of record of the contemporary American situation. I found his characters to be mainly neurotic and highly unsympathetic, except maybe for the protagonist's wife. It's hard for me to develop a sense of how the novel could have generated creative emotions, even though there is a musical idea that is associated with the figure of the Falling Man in the compositions that is actually quite beautiful.

Following up on the theme of post-2001 literature, I went to an art house theater to see Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is based on a novel by Mohsin Hamid. I thought the film was powerful. (There were, however, only four us in the theater.) The visuals were beautiful, and the lead actor, Riz Ahmed, is by no means difficult to look at for two hours. :-) I became curious about the novel and found a copy in the university library. It was quite a bit leaner and tauter than the film. Among the things I could relate to were the Ivy league education of the author, and also of the main character in the book and film. There is also, of course, the feeling of being a perpetual outsider. This is portrayed in the book and film by the main character's mentor at the financial valuation firm where he works after graduating from Princeton. The mentor is played by Kiefer Sutherland. In the book, but not in the film, it is implied that besides having been the son of a car salesman, the mentor may also be gay.

A Bosnian film, Grbavica, Land of My Dreams, came via Netflix a couple of weeks ago, and I found a block of time in which to watch it this week. Since I had been watching mainly gay-themed films in the last couple of months, I wasn't sure I would be able to relate as easily to a film that featured female characters. I wasn't sure how I felt about it at first, but it snuck up on me and ended up being one of the most powerfully emotional cinematic experiences I have ever had. One of the things that struck me about the film was the kind of music that appears at the beginning and end of the film, when women are seated on the floor at a women's support group. Evidently, women's support groups were set up after the war because there had been so many women widowed, or who had lost children, or who had been sexually assaulted during the war. I don't know that much about the program, but it seems to have been a government- or NGO-sponsored effort to help women heal from their experiences. An incentive for attendance was the dispensation of small stipends, which many of them needed because of unemployment or underemployment. Here's a trailer for the film:

After I watched the film, I tried to figure out what kind of music it was that was being sung during the women's group. I soon found out that it is called sevdalinka, or sevdah. The word is supposed to come from the Arabic, via Turkish, for black bile, i.e. melancholia. They are often performed along with Bosnian illahis (ilahije), and sometimes the genres blend a bit. I've been exploring both of these genres a bit recently. It's powerful stuff.

Well, it's time for me to go to bed.